Its askance look at Jack Parsons/Johnnie Ray/Andy Warhol meant that it was hardly going to set the Spotify end-of-year charts alight, even before COVID-19 put the duo’s planned tour on the backburner indefinitely.
And Luke Haines in… Setting The Dogs On The Post-Punk Postman picks up where its predecessor left off.
Like Beat Poetry for Survivalists and 2016’s Smash The System, Haines’s new one is a rare non-concept album for the post 2010 Haines, only in that it doesn’t have a single concept.
Instead, it’s got 11 scattershot stories about subjects that don’t usually show up on records from ex?post?non? formerly Britpop-adjacent popstars.
It’s got songs about scarecrows and pumpkins. Songs about bad gigs in Liverpool, former Eastern Bloc spies, singing on a bus with Ivor Cutler and swimming with Andrea Dworkin.
Where to begin? How about with ‘I Just Want To Be Buried’, the sort of unashamedly pripaic pop song Led Zeppelin (not righteous) would find a bit much but Peaches (utterly righteous) would probably appreciate (“I just wanna be buried / Between your breasts / Between your legs”).
‘Yes, Mr Pumpkin’ has a spoken word bit from Nathan Barley/Boosh/etc. star Julian Barratt. But while Barratt’s partner/fellow modern Britcom legend Julia Davis did a brilliantly straight Kids TV narration job on Haines’s 2013 album Rock and Roll Animals, here Barratt uses just the right amount of BBC newsreader crossed with The Day Today disdain on the snippy outro (“The pumpkin was found not guilty of all charges…”).
Opener ‘Ex Stasi Spy’ is an early-80s le Carré jangle (“Secrets and lies / A memo from the Bundesbank / Wearing a groovy disguise / Driving around in a Trabant”), complete with era-appropriate nods to Madonna and a guest spot from last year’s collaborators Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey.
Haines’s taste for and acquaintance of unlikely icons is well-represented. ‘Ivor on The Bus’ is about well, singing a song with Ivor Cutler. On a bus. ‘Andrew Dworkin’s Knees’ is about spotting the radical feminist superstar on the way to the swimming baths in Archway because… well, because this is a Luke Haines record.
Soundwise it’s maybe the most straight rock ‘n’ roll record Haines has done since since 2009’s 21st Century Man, which was just before he started going full concept (everybody knows you ALWAYS go full concept, btw).
There’s a sprinkling of synths and squawks to keep things interesting, but this mainly guitars and bass (Haines) and drums (Tim Weller), all stuck together with those late-era breathy, half-spoken, half sung Haines vocals.
It’s decidedly old-skool, frequently catchy (especially closer/title track ‘Setting The Dog On The Post-Punk Postman‘), and completely untouched by any trends in pop music, recent or otherwise.
Look. In 2021 it’s clear that Luke Haines is making music for himself. And with his strange, silly-but-always-straight-faced, singular outlook, what’s not to like?
Poorly conceived, badly executed and ideologically rotten, the European Super League was an expensive and hilarious fiasco.
The owners of those 12 “founding” clubs have rightly taken the bulk of the blame for the whole mess. Varying degrees of stupid, greedy and desperate, it’s been wonderful to see the whole thing implode instantly underneath them.
Previously unloved football authorities, broadcasters and even governments have managed to recast themselves as heroes, with their own past avarice and incompetence seemingly forgotten.
And while some have taken a moment to ask whether the likes of UEFA, FIFA, Sky or Boris Johnson really deserve more than the slightest of thanks for their *push-you-and-catch-you* “saved your life!” routine, there’s been wall-to-wall self-congratulation from fans for their role in killing off the ESL.
Of course JP Morgan and the owners of the dirty dozen deserve everything they’re getting, but the fans and football press have failed to take the slightest responsibility for the mess in which football’s found itself.
For decades now, egged on by a media that loves constant sackings, sensationalism and storytelling, fans have played a key role in turning the game upside down.
Winning (and losing) is a vital part of any sport, but the pervasive idea that winning is everything and losing is nothing is necessarily self-destructive.
In a division of 20 teams, only one can win the title. Chuck in a few cups and maybe a bit of winning is spread around. But the idea that nearly all teams are “failures” every year and that these clubs “need” sackings and signings to rectify that sets a perpetual transfer machine in motion.
This utterly destructive spiral has been seen as an inevitable consequence of modern football, and with the honourable exception of The Ugly Game author Martin Calladine, few have seriously explored any of the multiple options for getting out of this whole mess.
And the obsession over player transfers hasn’t just equalled the sensible weekly worry about winning and losing football matches. It’s easily surpassed it. We’ve all read countless articles from journalists who should know better weighing up whether or not winning the FA Cup or even the League will facilitate buying players, rather than rightly seeing those trophies as triumphs in and of themselves.
Fans themselves are frequently even worse. From the terraces to Twitter, the constant cry is “spend some fucking money”.
Ticket prices and the cost of TV subscriptions skyrocket. Matchday employees in the capital are routinely paid less than the London Living Wage. Backroom staff are sacked midway through a global pandemic. All the while, transfer fees, player wages and agents’ fees rise and rise.
Yet for all the crimes and misdemeanours of various club owners, the one thing that routinely got fans of all clubs exercised before the ESL debacle was the worry that rich owners weren’t pumping in more money to clubs by “investing” in players.
Fans always complain that they’re not being listened to. In fact, the thing they yell about the most is what they’re actually getting a fair amount of: spiralling, unsustainable, game-destroying spending on transfers and wages.
If anything, it’s only the relative (if obviously self-interested) restraint of owners that has kept this horrorshow on the road as long as it has.
Clubs who spent beyond their means for years and decades and now face financial worries or even bankruptcy deserve little sympathy.
They reaped the suspect rewards of this “investment” by crushing their opponents on the pitch, collecting trophies like ever-more meaningless baubles and hoovering up fans, commercial deals and revenue at the expense of all the other clubs. And all the while their fans cheered on every galactico’s signature.
Remarkably, even as The Twelve’s owners made their embarrassing public apologies for their part in the ESL affair, the genuine response from a large percentage of fans was, “We’ll forgive you… if you sign Mbappe/Haaland.” They have learned absolutely nothing.
Beyond the laughter, the best bit about the rise and immediate collapse of ESL has been the proof that fans really do have an incredible amount of power. Now’s the time to use it.
Keep picketing. Keep protesting. But instead of urging your club to spend £100m on a player (and £300k a week on his wages), maybe suggest they take a year off buying anyone at all.
Ask them to pay their other staff a fair wage. Ask them to put some serious money into the local community on which the history and culture of their entire commercial venture is based.
Ask them to have cheaper season tickets and a matchday allocation for local schoolkids. Ask them to push for regulations to prevent the changing of match dates and times with minimal notice to please broadcasters. Maybe even ask them to push for a minimum number of free-to-air league games every season.
You’ve proved you’ve got the power. Now’s the time to use it to do more than preserve the rotten status quo.
The original version of this interview was published in my Northern Quarter fanzine back in Summer 2006.
Around the time of the failed launch of State of Play, I moved back to Manchester. My plan was to take matters into own hands with a self-published quarterly (hence the title), featuring writing from my old London friends and new Manchester work colleagues.
For all the usual reasons (life, lethargy and laziness), it only ran for one issue in the end. The best of my own articles was an interview with up-and-coming stand-up Daliso Chaponda.
Just over a decade later, Daliso appeared on Britain’s Got Talent. Amanda Holden used her Golden Buzzer to fast-track him to the semi-finals, and he eventually finished in third place on the 2017 series.
Beat The Frog at Oldham Street’s Frog and Bucket can be a harsh place. It’s a baptism of fire for newbies and still a rough ride for more experienced stand-ups trying new material.
While it’s not as deeply aggressive as some gong shows, it’s still proved to be the last resting place of many comedians and much more material besides.
Some of the very best performers still struggle at the Frog. At least one of the three tipsy judges chosen from the audience on the night will usually stick up their green “get off the stage” card at some point during each set, regardless of quality.
Even for those who escape three cards and the Frog Chorus exit music, it’s clear that many find filling those five minutes a challenge. The crowd’s attention is often sapped by cut-price lager and the knowledge that hey, it’s a free night.
With all that in mind, a few months back we saw Daliso Chaponda making his Beat The Frog debut. His five minutes passed in what seemed like five seconds. He won the clap-off with ease and walked away from venue a more-than deserved winner.
We had to find out more. Where the hell did Daliso Chaponda come from, and where’s he going next?
The short answer to that first question is well… there isn’t one. Born in Malawi, Daliso spent time in South Africa and Swaziland before a move to Canada to study computer science and literature, taking what he calls “a good steady path to stability”.
His down-the-line schooling then got sidetracked. Unlike most Manchester stand-ups who got their first exposure to comedy via telly and the stage, Daliso took the scenic route.
“I didn’t watch any stand-up early on in my life,” he says. “I watched a lot of humour. I read a lot of humour, like Oscar Wilde, but not stand-up, so I’ve always had a sort of different, odd style.”
And at school in Swaziland he became a storyteller. “It’s a very big African art,” Daliso says. “It’s cheap, you don’t need any props, it’s just a dude who starts talking. Wonderful!
“It’s a very versatile kind of artform and I was very into it, also because I write fiction, a perfect mesh.”
Daliso writes. He writes a lot. His passion is sci-fi, with Orson Scott Card and Octavia Butler namechecked as influences, but there’s also a stash of erotica in his back catalogue.
With credits on literotica.com, some stories in an erotica anthology and his own collection coming later this year, we can’t not ask.
“I needed a quick way to make money, and people are obsessed with porn on the net,” he says. “There’s so much, right? “I thought ‘Well, I can write porn better than this badly-written nonsense’.”
Starting off with the obvious fantasy material, Daliso quickly moved into writing erotic humour. “I thought there’s no point spending time being ashamed of it, so I may as well write it in a way that I can tell my friends, ‘Look at this!’.”
Back to the comedy then. Daliso’s stand-up features quick, sharp gags, piercing insight and above all else, supremely confident delivery. He owns the stage. So, it’s no surprise that he cites Chris Rock as an influence.
A more unexpected shoutout goes to South Shields-born Sarah Millican, who’s been making big waves on the Manchester circuit. “She really impressed me because her writing was amazing, and the stuff which impresses me is writing, because I write.
“There are a lot of people who are great performers with dodgy material, so the ones who really astonish me are the ones who can write.”
With his storytelling background and focus on writing ahead of performance, Daliso has a different edge to many on the Manchester scene. His four years in Canada have also had an effect.
He thinks the smaller number of comedians and venues there compared to the endless gong shows here explains why so many Canadians have managed to succeed in the UK and elsewhere.
“Gong shows are a crap way to become good at comedy,” he says. “For your first year you can do one minute, it’s terrible! You never progress.
“In Canada I was doing five minutes every week, or every few weeks. There were only a few clubs too, so you’re forced to write new material.”
Having been repeatedly frustrated seeing potentially interesting comics failing to get off a single gag, and also seeing popular circuit names using identical material for months on end around the city, we’re inclined to agree.
The streets of Manchester are littered with the comedic corpses of unrealised potential but Daliso really feels on the cusp of something big.
Currently playing a mixture of paid gigs and amateur spots to get noticed, is there anything that will take the guy to the next level?
A look back to his time in Canada is certainly encouraging. He toured the full-length Feed This Black Man in 2002, followed by Don’t Let Them Deport Me two years later – that second show being a response to Canadian authorities refusing him a visa extension.
He’s still a storyteller, then. “I like writing novels. I believe that in stand-up you only get started when you’re doing half an hour. I just want to get to the point where I can do one hour shows. I like to think of them as being very structured, almost like a book.
“And I want it that when I’m 60 that you can line up the shows I’ve done and it gives you a story of where my life is at.
“When you do ten minutes, it’s just foreplay. You’re just making people laugh, you can’t say anything. So comedy-wise, I just wanna do shows. I wanna write scripts.”
Daliso’s last show in Canada was called They’re Deporting Me Anyway, performed as a one-off shortly before he was forced from the country. We ask if being a struggling immigrant comedian is any easier in the UK, and are unsurprised to find out that it’s just as difficult here as anywhere else.
There’s been plenty in the news of late about the release of non-British prisoners into UK society. Many in the press have wilfully confused and misrepresented the facts, choosing instead to emblazon their front pages with the words “foreigners” and “criminals” alongside large numbers, tapping into the latent xenophobia in British society.
“It’s interested the way you see the headlines… the words used,” Daliso says. “It’s also capitalised on by certain political parties, it’s just very worrying”.
In local elections the day after our interview, the BNP doubled its number of councillors, making its largest gains in Barking and Dagenham and becoming the second-largest party there. Some suggest that fears of the BNP and others like them are overstated. Daliso disagrees.
“Notions of hypernationalists and what they do to countries are a very distant fairytale for people here, but growing up in Africa we’ve seen it straight up,” he says. “My home country Malawi had an extreme dictatorship, South Africa had apartheid and it was very nationalistic.”
And race is still an issue in comedy. We ask if Daliso would consider a permanent move to the US, like other successful Canadian comics. He’s not sure if he wants to move from the UK.
“What I like here is that you’re a comedian. You’re not necessarily a black comedian,” he says. “In the States you’re really a black comedian. I don’t know if that makes sense, but the race thing means more there.
“In terms of the clubs that are gonna book you, ‘Here black comedian, you do Def Jam’. You can do other shows, but certain clubs are gonna book you more.
“Here, I just go everywhere, and I talk about being black but I can talk about other things, and I like that element.”
Daliso wants to perform for everyone. “The truth is I’ll do comedy anywhere”, he says. “I had a hard time about a year ago when I did a golf club, because it was very rich people, a lot of my comedy was about being broke, they didn’t understand.
“Also a lot of them were sports people. I’m not a very big sports guy, but I learnt. Immediately after that I got home and wrote jokes about wealth. I wrote some jokes about sports.”
Under all that wit and swagger, is Daliso Chaponda just another bland careerist, then?
Later that evening we dropped by the Comedy Balloon at Jabez Clegg, the comedians’ comedy night where stand-ups try out new material to an audience made up mainly of other comics.
After a few drinks, Daliso explains that as human beings we have a connection with everyone else. There’s always something that connects a comic to their audience, no matter how different they may appear on the surface.
And when you strip everything away, he says it’s the comedians job to draw out this connection and use it to make their audience laugh.
Perhaps it’s a hangover from his storytelling days. A medium where, as Daliso says, “you can go to all sorts of places and you can entertain children and adults”. That desire to take on any audience and find that connection. To bust open the conventions of stand-up and tell a story.
Before PIFL was a rarely-updated blog, it was an even more infrequently-released fanzine. One of a few I tried to make happen in my teens and 20s.
Warm on the heels of boredom (two issues and out) and Northern Quarter (one and done) were the two sole issues of Play it Fucking Loud.
After (all-too) eagerly sticking a copy of Issue #1 into the hands of Julia Indelicate as she tidied up her gear after a show somewhere, I badgered her and joint frontperson Simon into letting me interview them for Issue #2.
The interview was a thrill, but the article was embarrassingly pompous, overwrought and overwritten.
I’m not just saying that. It used the words “scribes”, “weblog”, and “dèbut” with an accent, for god’s sake. Weblog. Christ..
So I’ve given it a nip and tuck to make it a bit more readable, taken out (some of) the rambling and fawning, and gone back to the transcript to neaten up the quotes
Soon after Play it Fucking Loud #2 was printed up in 2008, I gleefully sold out with an entry-level part time job as a Celebrity Big Brother Reporter at Digital Spy.
It evolved into an eight-year stint as a journalist and eventually news editor before I moved on/out, but not before I took advantage of my fortunate situation to interview Simon and Julia a few more times.
They were always lovely to talk to, and more importantly were always making great art and saying interesting things about it.
The Indelicates have kept on writing, playing and recording. Listen to their stuff on Spotify and then go and buy it from their Corporate Records website.
“Once in a corridor in Memphis / Was a singer took a breath / Wrote the birth of the teenager / Now we come to write his death”
‘The Last Significant Statement To Be Made In Rock ‘N’ Roll’
PIFL has been here before. Ever since we bought our first tapes from Our Price we’ve been bombarded by journalists and musicians telling us that pop is dead.
At the same time, we’ve also seen endless magazine covers yelling the exact opposite, usually while hailing some fourth-generation rock ‘n’ roll facsimiles as our new favourite band.
Fronted by Simon and Julia, what’s striking about The Indelicates is that while their lyrics echo the first view, their songs are actually good enough to make you believe.
After a few sharp singles, their acerbic, explosive debut album American Demo was released in April.
“I’m alright about the album now,” says Simon. “I was really unhappy about it the week before it came out.
“I just felt really exposed. Like I’d walked out on stage at the school play without knowing any lines. Now it’s actually come out I’ve stopped worrying about it.”
Listening to the album, you can understand why its release might make him feel vulnerable. American Demo offers up a pretty singular take on love, life, drugs, politics and rock ‘n’ roll itself.
“I’m the most right-wing person I know, by a clear margin,” Simon says. It’s not the sort of thing you usually hear a musician say, especially one in their mid-20s.
We’ve just asked him about an unhinged review of the album that, among other things, denounced the band as rabid left-wingers and no-good feminists.
The review also suggested that Julia would be better off having a solo career, leaving Simon to write for Mojo.
“It really upset me,” Simon says of that final barb. “It really did bug me to the point where I had to talk about it in interviews and on stage.”
Julia isn’t too keen on the idea either.
“It’s really offensive to me because I’m not stupid,” she says. “I’m not just ‘a female singer’.
“When someone says that what they mean is, ‘You’ve got a great voice and I didn’t listen to a word of what you were saying’. I mean, fuck off! Seriously, what gives you the right to say that to me?
“It’s always men of a certain age – it’s always ‘industry professionals’. They’re maybe late 30s or whatever, they’re just trying to pull is what it is.
“They’re trying to be your friend and you’re thinking, ‘I’m not going to be your friend if you’re not going to be polite!’.”
Still seething, Simon half-quips: “At least The Spectator! If they said I should write for The Spectator I would have been, ‘Fine, alright’.”
Was he really bothered by the ranting of some nobody on a blog you’ve never heard of?
“The reason it got to me is that I don’t think I’ve got any right to be doing anything in music,” he says.
“I’m middle class, for a start… I can’t really sing, to be honest. I can hold a tune, but I don’t really have a range or anything like that.
“It was like, ‘What are you doing, Twat? You should be a lawyer or something. That’s what you’re supposed to be doing’.
“It wasn’t so much that he said it but that I agreed. I was in a really bad mood anyway because the album was coming out and I didn’t want it to because I was scared, but I’m over it now.”
We’re only talking to Simon and Julia today, but The Indelicates are more than a duo. It’s just that outside the music the other members of the band don’t get much of a look in.
On stage in Manchester a few hours after this interview, drummer Ed van Beinum, bassist Kate Newberry and guitarist Al Clayton come into their own. As a group they take the songs up a level, giving them a harder-edged, glammier sound.
Al especially bounces around the venue like a dosed-up Gummi Bear, offering the crowd more than just the frontpeople as a focus.
Do the other members feel deprived of a voice, as well as a place on the front cover of their own album?
“No, because they hate talking to people, so that’s the price,” Simon laughs.
“They don’t mind,” Julia says. “I think they like being the rhythm section. They all joined up because of that, so they don’t want to be in the ‘public eye’ as such, though they do on stage.”
Simon adds: “They’re our words, so it’s up to us to take responsibility for what we said.”
“‘Cos if we can’t have a better world / Then at least can we be right?” – ‘The British Left In Wartime’
Back to the politics. Simon might describe himself as the most right wing person he knows, but he hardly talks like Nick Griffin and The Indelicates aren’t exactly Skrewdriver.
In fact, the band recently donated a track to REPEAT fanzine’s Fuck the BNP right off compilation. So what does he mean by that, then?
Well, along with ‘Our Daughters Will Never Be Free’ – Julia’s swipe at post-feminism – the album has a couple more out-and-out political moments.
‘Better to Know’ is unashamedly pro-liberal, pro-awareness, while ‘America’ hacks at the reflexive anti-Americanism of much of the British left.
We wonder if songs like that make the band feel set apart from other musicians.
“Yeah,” says Simon, “But I’d probably be embarrassed to do it if I didn’t feel a bit out on a limb.
“‘America’ especially is something that I care about. You do get this constant stupidity from the left, which is really disappointing and irritating. It really does bug me.
“It’d be very easy to write songs about how I don’t like George Bush, because of course, no-one likes George Bush.
“Just as it’s very easy to shock the Daily Mail, but it’s kind of pointless. That’s what they’re for – the Daily Mail – to be shocked.
“Anything that runs against the grain of what the people you’re talking to believe seems a lot more worthwhile.
“If you’re having a go at the people directly in front of you, at least you’re not just talking to the choir.”
At PIFL, we’re not demanding that our favourite bands echo our politics. It’s just refreshing to hear a band making a point of thinking for themselves before shooting off their mouths.
At the very least, we want artists to recognise the contradictions that flare up if they start preaching to their fanbase.
Too many hotly-tipped guitar bands in Britain right now seem focused on just three things: their careers, teenage girls, and drugs.
“The popstars who write operas / And make fatuous remarks / The theory quoting upstarts / Who snort fairtrade coke in parks” – ‘America’
“Coke is the least ethically produced crop in the world,” Simon says. “People’s feet can get burned off when they have to tread it in acid, otherwise they get shot. People won’t go to McDonald’s but they’ll buy coke.”
He adds: “The bands of this generation are a lot less radical than those of their parents’ generation.
“And that in itself suggests a reversal of something which was once interesting and made changes in society as a voice for youth.
“It stopped being that when Kurt Cobain shot himself, and became just a method of selling pieces of plastic to teenagers.”
Simon thinks the idea of rock ‘n’ roll as rebellion has run its course. There’s no longer any evidence of it.
Julia takes up the thread.
“I think indie music’s dead too,” she says. “As in independent, an independent scene.
“With the alternative scene in America the difference is phenomenal. The alternative scene in America consists of a vast number of different things but they’re really supportive.
“There are all sorts of labels that are basically small businesses that will come and support that, whereas in England ours died.
“Ours died and possibly became pop music, which is fine. That’s what happens. But people forget there was a reason it was indie music. That it was independent – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.”
After a short stint on Sad Gnome Records, the band signed to independent label Weekender. Was it always the strategy to stay free on an indie? Not quite.
Simon admits he always wanted to release the album “on a massive label” and Julia agrees.
“In terms of sound it’s not not commercial, though maybe it is in terms of lyrics,” she says.
“It doesn’t bother me being on an indie, because you have a lot more control over what happens.
“But if a big label ever wanted to sign us up we’d definitely say yes. And we’d say yes having thought it through. We’re not dumb, so we think about it.
“I don’t really have a problem with many people being able to buy your music. The more people that hear about it the better really.”
“When they pin me to the wall, I’ll say / I’m with America / With godless America” – ‘America’
The band went to the States earlier this year to play South by Southwest. Despite all hype, what they found when they got there was a pretty tedious industry get-together.
“No different from the Tory party conference,” Simon says. “Just lots of men in suits walking around with badges on, talking about fringe meetings and how excited they are about everything.”
The surroundings were something else, though.
“I really liked being in America,” Julia says. “The space in Texas is just phenomenal.
“I was born in Saudi Arabia and I used to live in compounds because my dad worked for an airline.
“The compounds used to be some way into the desert and I’m really used to vast amounts of space.
“It’s so nice to look to the horizon and it’s just immense… it’s such a wonderful feeling to be able to do that. If you live in a city all the time, you don’t get that.
“It’s really, really freeing and it also makes you feel like you could survive it, if you’re a positive person.
“You feel, ‘I could do this, I could walk through this desert, and I could work it out, I’d be able to stand alone’.
“I think there’s a lot of that about America, despite it having loads and loads of problems. There’s something about that, about you feeling able to do something.
“The dark days ahead / And the blood on the bed / And the cover of the NME / They gave us a cheque / And took us by our necks / And swore undying loyalty”
– ‘New Art For The People’
Back to Blighty. Does being on the front cover of Britain’s oldest surviving pop weekly mean anything anymore? Simon says yes, Julia no.
“To be fair, I never read the NME and I was never into indie music,” Julia says. “I was into dance music and classical music.”
Simon replies: “But I didn’t grow up somewhere cool! Where I grew up, the NME was like a lifeline and I find it really difficult to slag it off because it meant loads to me as a kid.”
Julia says: “I just don’t like the NME because I don’t like music writing. I find the NME to be particularly bad, but I don’t find Plan B that different.
“They’ll be like, ‘Sounds a bit like this band, and this band and this band’. It’s not that I have a problem with it as such, it’s just that it doesn’t make any sense to me.
“That’s what I mean about it not meaning anything. Maybe it means something to some people, but I think it means more in terms of business than anything else.
“The Wombats are on the cover, therefore they’re going get big for the next six months. And then they’re going to get shot down in flames and part of me feels a bit sorry for them because a lot of them are just kids.”
There are still some acts out there who impress The Indelicates. Former Sad Gnome labelmate Lily Rae, Jim Bob from Carter USM, Red Zebra, and The Flesh Happening all get a mention.
“They’re amazing,” Simon says of The Flesh Happening. “It feels like watching Bowie, but with this more aggressively queer, really disgusting edge, a really proper edge, something that really is quite shocking.”
Despite all the undisguised musical nods and reference points, The Indelicates themselves don’t really sound like anyone else in British pop right now.
A very big part of that is their lyrics. They know it, too, if their deliciously snarky ‘Too Schooled For Cool’ T-shirt on the merch stand is anything to go by.
“I’m bitter and twisted / Unaddressed and unlisted / And all of our plans came to nothing, it seems” – ‘Point Me To The West’
“I try not to lie with everything we do and I think we succeed in that,” Simon says of what the band are trying to achieve.
“I mean, I don’t necessarily think I’m a particularly good singer, and I’m an alright guitarist – I’ve been practising long enough.
“I don’t think there’s anything we say that isn’t something we’ve thought through properly. It’s intended honestly.
“I think if we could be financially stable while not lying to people, that’d be good enough really.”
The cover of American Demo features Simon and Julia behind a freshly-painted white line, bucket and brush in hand. It’s a bold cover, and it makes bold statement.
“Being out on a limb – the cover of the album is mainly designed with that in mind – because I take responsibility for everything I said,” Simon says.
“It’s why the week before releasing the album I felt terrible, just terrified and unpleasantly naked.
“But, I wanted to be on the cover, and to have Julia on the cover as well, going ‘Yeah, it was us’.”
All of these records are varying levels of brilliant. Especially the animals one.
All (except the Electronic Sound mag freebie Freqs) are free to listen to on Spotify. It’s 2020. Click. Listen. Enjoy.
But now he’s hooked up with Peter Buck. Peter Buck. So we’re half expecting a mix of that razor sharp Haines wit mumble-mumble-mumbled over some jangle, maybe with some New Adventures in Hi-Fi FX thrown over the top, right?
Despite Buck co-writing every song and laying down track after track of guitars (and Fifth REMmer Scott McCaughey playing bass), this is for all intents and purposes a Luke Haines album.
The beefiest, punchiest Luke Haines album since After Murder Park, probably, but a Luke Haines album all the same.
So of course it opens with a song about the Aleister Crowley-inspired (and L Ron Hubbard-inspiring) rocket engineer Jack Parsons who died in a lab explosion aged 37. Of course there are songs about Bigfoot hunters, Johnnie Ray, and the essential unpleasantness of Andy Warhol.
And of course, it’s great. It’s thwack after thwack of hooky, ridiculous, singular, rock ‘n’ roll insanity.
Even after joining forces with a guitarist who sold more than 85 million albums, Luke Haines still isn’t questing for a commercial breakthrough. Thank fuck for that.
As Morrissey releases his 13th solo studio album, the same tired debates and arguments are being rolled out.
To recap, Morrissey turned 60 last year. Elder statesman of rock age. Old enough for a free Travelcard on his rare visits to London.
But the big day slipped by with little more than a murmur. No birthday live shows, no BBC Four retrospective, and no 60-track Spotify playlists.
His groundbreaking, pop-redefining five years with The Smiths in the mid-1980s should have been enough to warrant a dizzy celebration. And then there’s his occasionally brilliant early solo career and genuinely triumphant 2004 comeback.
As ever with Morrissey, it’s a little bit complicated. His bad-tempered, snarling battles with a record industry from which he refuses to cut himself free can easily be ignored, as can the middling (at best) quality of his last few records.
What’s been more difficult to set aside are the political outbursts that have seen him increasingly lurch from alt-rock to alt.right.
Every unpleasant squeak about immigration or Islam or race is followed by the same, boring Bigmouth Strikes Again headlines and an equally-reductive retread of the argument about whether or not you can separate art from the artist.
With Morrissey, both these responses utterly miss the point.
Morrissey’s public pronouncements aren’t some juvenile slur dug up by journalists scouring social feeds for cheap clicks. They’re not an ill-advised mid-interview blurt to be swiftly apologised for, if never quite forgotten.
This isn’t about “cancel culture”. These aren’t one-off rants or rambles. The ideology of his outbursts are central to Morrissey’s public being.
And while the personal is unavoidably political for all of us, in his work Morrissey has always been completely both.
Others sang your life, but now is a chance to shine And have the pleasure of saying what you mean Have the pleasure of meaning what you sing
Sing Your Life’ from Kill Uncle (1991)
Aside from relatively narrow concerns about whether or not fans should financially support a horrible person, in the case of Morrissey it doesn’t really matter what the man born on May 22, 1959 in Lancashire really thinks or feels.
There is an idea of Morrissey; some kind of abstraction. But in 2020? Unless you’re in the ever-shrinking circle of family, friends, or colleagues, there is no real him: only an entity, something illusory.
In any meaningful sense, the Morrissey you hear on record is Morrissey. Any other Morrissey is of minimal critical interest. It simply is not there.
From The Smiths on, whether Morrissey is writing in the first or third person, the art has always been the artist. The singer is the song.
And in that regard, none of this discussion is anything new. The first serious issues with Morrissey’s work came all the way back on his first solo album.
Bengali, Bengali Oh, shelve your Western plans And understand That life is hard enough when you belong here
‘Bengali in Platforms’ from Viva Hate (1988)
An open letter to a first-generation immigrant, ‘Bengali in Platforms’ could – and maybe should – have ended Morrissey’s post-Smiths career as soon as it started.
Dressed up in cloying faux-sympathy (“Break the news to him gently”), the message is clear enough. This Bengali immigrant does not “belong” in the narrator’s England.
While many rightly called out the song at the time and since, some of us desperately twisted and turned to excuse it. We were all-too eager to forgive or ignore such small-minded prejudice to allow us to enjoy the brilliance on either side of it.
We stretched its meaning past breaking point. Reframing it as a character song, or even a critique of racist attitudes rather than the slightest endorsement of them.
Morrissey scholar Simon Goddard understandably-if-not-quite-excusably took that line. In his Mozipedia he dismisses concerns about Morrissey and his lyrics in turn as “misconstrued”, “misunderstood”, “wild misinterpretation”, “nonsensical”, “false”, “tired and inaccurate”, a “witch hunt” and even a “racist smear campaign”.
Others disagreed. Cornershop knew the score from the off, grabbing some of their first headlines for righteously burning a photograph of Morrissey outside EMI’s offices.
Still sticking to the text and tracks, that was far from the end of it.
Tooled-up Asian boy Has come to take revenge For the cruel, cold killing Of his very best friend
‘Asian Rut’ from Kill Uncle (1991)
On the surface, the dismal ‘Asian Rut’ from the limp Kill Uncle is more sympathetic than ‘Bengali in Platforms’.
While it opens questioning what drugs an anonymous “Asian boy” is on, it soon emerges the “tooled-up” kid is out on a fatally doomed bid to avenge the (presumably racist) murder of his best friend.
The murder is a “cruel, cold killing”, the Asian boy is “brave” and the three-on-one attack that halts his attempt at vengeance “must be wrong”.
Like ‘Bengali in Platforms’, the surface-level sympathy feels false, mocking even. Scratch just an inch below and the song feels cold, heartless and emotionally disconnected from its supposedly lead character.
In his very best moments, Morrissey is so at one with his characters that he utterly becomes them. By contrast, here he’s a detached first-person narrator “just passing through here on my way to somewhere civilized”.
‘Asian Rut’ is no morality tale. There are no lessons learned. Minimal anger. Zero catharsis. There’s a complete absence of empathy. By contrast, even Jack the Ripper gets a more sympathetic hearing in Morrissey’s dialogue-in-song, earning level-pegging with his victims.
As a one-off, ‘Asian Rut’ would be a cold, strange addition to anyone’s back catalogue. On the heels of ‘Bengali in Platforms’, it’s clear that race and racism was fast becoming a preoccupation for the solo Morrissey.
Issues with its lyrical content to one side, Kill Uncle was so musically underpowered and melodically vacant it made a serious dent Morrissey solo career.
Then along came a Spider…
We may seem cold, or We may even be The most depressing people you’ve ever known At heart, what’s left, we sadly know That we are the last truly British people you’ll ever know
‘We’ll Let You Know’ from Your Arsenal (1992)
The phrase is bandied about far too often, but propelled by Mick Ronson’s production, Your Arsenal was one of Morrissey’s two genuine, unarguable, returns to form.
Sonically it fused The Smiths’ melodic melancholia and Ronson’s ’70s rock edge with a much more successful version of the rockabilly attempted on its predecessor.
But yet again, lyrically Morrissey wilfully strode into troubling territory.
‘We’ll Let You Know’ was a delightfully delirious, woozy, love-letter to British (actually English) football hooliganism, pointedly written in first-person plural (compare and contrast with the distancing third person of ‘Bengali in Platforms’ and ‘Asian Rut’).
Oh, you’re going to Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah England for the English! England for the English!
‘The National Front Disco’ from Your Arsenal (1992)
And on ‘The National Front Disco’ a mother mourns her boy who’s been “lost” to the NF because “there’s a country, you don’t live there, but one day you would like to”.
A blistering stomp of a track, it’s certainly not unambiguously pro-National Front, though neither is it really condemnatory.
Even more than ‘Bengali in Platforms’, ‘Asian Rut’ or ‘We’ll Let You Know’, ‘The National Front Disco’ is a pure character piece that in isolation offers plenty of plausible deniability.
What’s more, by 1992 the National Front had long been in decline, making the song feel like a historical study to file alongside This Is England, rather than a current expression of its author’s politics.
A decade after chairman John Tyndall split off to form the BNP, the NF was an irrelevance as a political party, even as its wretched, racist ideology lived on.
But coming in a run of songs on a similar theme, it felt as though artistic preoccupation was fast becoming a borderline obsession.
After Your Arsenal came Morrissey’s solo high point Vauxhall & I, an album that thankfully shied away from matters of race, racism and nationality and was all the better for it.
Then there was the artistic dip of Southpaw Grammar, the personality-altering blow of losing a court case to former Smiths drummer Mike Joyce, and the miss ‘n’ hit Maladjusted.
Seven years in the wilderness followed before Morrissey finally returned with one of the great comebacks. And when you saw Morrissey’s name up in Elvis ’68 lights at his long-awaited Manchester homecoming, it was clear he knew it, too.
I’ve been dreaming of a time when To be English is not to be baneful To be standing by the flag not feeling shameful, racist or partial
‘Irish Blood, English Heart’ from You Are The Quarry (2004)
Half a decade of intermittent touring had kept the flame alive while allowing enough of the mutual contempt that has grown between Morrissey and the media in the ’90s to die down.
And while the internal rancour from Morrissey had probably only grown in the years since his self-imposed exile, on record at least it veered away from the arguably actionable (‘Sorrow Will Come In The End’) towards almost gently self-parodic (‘The World Is Full Of Crashing Bores’).
Rather than ignore the controversies of his past work, Morrissey sought to revise and recast them. Morrissey was no racist. He was a patriot. His celebration of Englishness was no different to The Libertines’ post-racial celebration of a quasi-mythical Albion.
As if to prove it, Morrissey won a public apology from The Word in 2008 and a second one from the NME in 2012 for suggesting anything otherwise in their framing of his quotes from an earlier 2007 interview.
Again, the legal settlements about Morrissey the Person are almost irrelevant. Morrissey the Artist had already outlined his case on disc by launching his comeback with ‘Irish Blood, English Heart’.
And we were so surprised by how good the songs sounded that we wilfully pushed our reservations about what they meant to the back of our brains and swallowed the argument.
Over the 15 years that followed as Morrissey’s public pronouncements veered from unpalatable to unacceptable, the quality of his music almost helpfully followed a similar trajectory.
As well as long-time fans and apologists now keeping their distance, Morrissey’s continued fall didn’t just lead to those tired and empty art/artist discussions.
It also opened the door to countless people falling over themselves to tell anyone who’ll listen that not only did they never like Morrissey, they always hated The Smiths, anyway. It’s a self-regarding, incurious way of approaching all this.
But what these people inadvertently do get right is that these issues didn’t just spring from nowhere when the post-Marr Smiths first demoed an early, more unpleasant-sounding version of ‘Bengali in Platforms’.
There’s a club if you’d like to go You could meet somebody who really loves you So you go and you stand on your own And you leave on your own And you go home and you cry And you want to die
‘How Soon Is Now’ from the B-Side of ‘William, It Was Really Nothing’ (1984) / A-Side single (1985)
Over their four studio albums and flurry of singles in half a decade, The Smiths presented a specific version of vulnerable masculinity that was pretty much unheard of in pop before.
Rock had long been dominated by the crass Freudian guitar waving that had taken hold since the tail end of the 1960s (“I’m gonna give ya every inch of my love”).
And while other expressions of maleness in rock had emerged by the mid-1980s, none were quite like The Smiths.
Sexual but decidedly not sexy. Romantic but absolutely not loved up. Essentially unrequited. Certainly not macho but not feminine nor truly androgynous either. Buzzcocks with a jangle, maybe.
The melancholy, self-pity and dark humour of those Smiths’ songs tap into a universal teenage experience.
Girl afraid Where do his intentions lay? Or does he even have any?
‘Girl Afraid’ from the B-Side of ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’ (1984)
While the importance of Marr (and Rourke and Joyce too, for that matter) is all too often underplayed, it’s undeniable that the connection of Morrissey’s lyrics with their young audience is what would rightly immortalise The Smiths.
The band expressed the trials and torment of teenage wildlife like no other pop group before or since.
Looking back now though, it’s possible to see how, if (over)indulged, the raging sense of teen injustice, isolation and rejection so perfectly captured and transmitted by The Smiths becomes a feedback loop.
I was driving my car I crashed and broke my spine So yes, there are things worse in life than Never being someone’s sweetie
‘That’s How People Grow Up’ from Greatest Hits (2008) / Years of Refusal (2009)
Left to fester or even encouraged, resentment rides high. Emotions won’t grow. Self-pity tips into self-loathing. Mix that up with narcissism, sexual entitlement and a dose of unhealthy misanthropy and you’ve got a primordial soup for hate.
No-one would suggest that putting Meat is Murder on repeat as a teen is a one-way ticket to /r/incels (gone, not missed), or that collecting Smiths records sets you on a rocky road to UKIP.
After all, most of the millions of Smiths fans (and three quarters of The Smiths) manage to get through a week without endorsing For Britain.
But if you believe that art has value, meaning and impact (which it does), and that pop is art (which it is), then a proper critical appraisal of music that explores such powerful and universal emotions must be worthwhile.
It may not get us anywhere further as a culture, but it’s certainly more valuable than pompously pouting about how unenthused you were by The Smiths 35 years ago, or asking yet again if you can separate the art from the artist.
Maybe the two limp tracks that did emerge really were all that there was.
But there were references to new material as far back as a rehearsal setlist for the 2012 comeback shows in Shane Meadows film Made of Stone. And it’s not even known if the two apologetic singles we eventually got actually came from there.
Those two songs – ‘All For One’ and ‘Beautiful Thing’ – underline the problem with The Stone Roses’ presumably final run.
Against all the odds and in the face of a justified amount of cynicism, the comeback gigs themselves were thrilling. It felt as though the band had pretty much picked up where they’d left off. In fact, it felt less like a continuation of 1996 and more an alternate timeline branching off in 1991.
With a setlist almost entirely made up of songs from the Roses’ 1987-1990 imperial phase, and just a smattering of the messy-but-overmaligned Second Coming (I like it), the shows (re)captured a moment in time and almost threatened to transcend nostalgia.
But the reunion couldn’t quite manage that without offering something genuinely new. And so to the comeback songs.
And what goes up must come down Turns into dust or turns into stone
The Stone Roses – ‘One Love’
The last single of the band’s first (pre-break) run was ‘One Love’. That track dazzled and shimmered, but at the same time there was a sense of it treading water, rather than following the leap forward of the genre (re)-defining ‘Fools Gold’.
A quarter of a century on, ‘All For One’ magnified that sense of disappointment many times over.
A vapid murmur over a meandering shuffle, it sounded like the work of a band who had wilfully ignored the last 25 years of pop music. The will-this-do lemon-aided sleeve was almost an apologetic admission that this was little more than a regressive retro retread.
Follow up ‘Beautiful Thing’ was significantly better, but it was still too little, much too late.
What was so disappointing is that – collectively and individually – the band had in the past already proved themselves more than willing to evolve.
For all the poor reviews and disappointment at the time, their belated Second Coming was a real shift from what came before.
Despite conventional wisdom you can usually judge a record by its cover, and the drastically different artwork showed that this wasn’t going to be The Stone Roses 2.0.
Released as the Britpop scene the band had so inspired was exploding, it sounded both unlike everything around it and markedly different from the band’s own past
And with ‘Breaking Into Heaven’, ‘Daybreak’, ‘Love Spreads’, and especially ‘Tightrope’ and ‘Begging You’, they came up with a clutch of songs every bit the equal of The Stone Roses.
More than that, after the split each member of the band moved on in very different directions in the following two decades.
First out of the traps was Mani, who revitalised a stuttering Primal Scream and within four years was a vital part of two of their three best ever albums.
After John Squire popped up to frazzle all over Oasis’s Knebworth encores, he had a false-if-temporarily-successful restart with The Seahorses, whose cookie cutter Britpop at least felt of the time (though not a second beyond it).
A second album was promised but never came. Bootlegs of the sessions show a painfully straightforward and essentially tuneless Britrock. It wasn’t much worse than a lot of the stuff being released around the time, but it wasn’t much better either.
Squire went on to (self-)release the underappreciated Time Changes Everything (with olive branch ‘I Miss You’ and self-mythologising ‘15 Days’ among the standouts). Edward Hopper tribute Marshall’s House followed.
If you can get past or even enjoy Squire’s strangled Dylan drawl they’re both lovely, shy, understated records. He then called it a day, giving up pop for painting and sculpture until the reunion.
Remember when we were heroes? When we are gold? Said I miss you And I know deep down that you Miss me too
John Squire – ‘I Miss You’
Despite being the first to leave the band, Reni all-but disappeared from view, surfacing only briefly for a few gigs as frontman of The Rub.
But Ian Brown was the real suprise. His first solo album still doesn’t get the love it deserves, but it did at least launch him as a successful standalone artist. That’s something few thought likely after the Roses’ Squire-less (and Reni-less) Reading ’96 disaster.
Unfinished Monkey Business was the most Roses-dominated post-split release from anyone in the band. ‘Ice Cold Cube’ was salvaged from Reading and ‘Can’t See Me’ was based on a Mani Roses demo.
Late era Roses Aziz Ibrahim, Nigel Ippinson and Robbie Maddix pitched in. The album was sparked by Ippinson’s gift of ‘What Happened To Ya?’ (another Squire sideswipe).
It remans the most personal, singular and interesting record any of the band has ever released. It’s certainly the most fun.
What happened to ya? Did you change your mind? What happened to ya? We were one of a kind
Ian Brown – ‘What Happened To Ya?’
An unfortunate jail stint meant Brown never properly toured Unfinished Monkey Business, and while follow-up Golden Greats cemented his solo status and pushed up the electronics, it didn’t quite have the same quirky spirit as its predecessor.
Brown’s next four albums before the Roses reunion saw him continue to stomp his own path and were bouyed by some real highlights (‘F.E.A.R.’, ‘Keep What Ya Got’). But it felt like he had lost his momentum by the time the band finally reformed in 2012.
The sense of suspicion around the comeback was dented by a joyously irreverent press conference and obliterated with a burst of energy at the first batch of comeback gigs. But there was still something missing.
When Reni stomped offstage before an encore that never came in Amsterdam it was clear the imagination necessary to make a pop group really matter just wasn’t there anymore.
Reni’s dodgy ear monitors and hissy fit could be easily shrugged off, but rather than yelp his apologies and call it a night as he did, nothing was stopping Ian grabbing John and kicking into an acoustic ‘Tightrope’ and ‘… Resurrection’ to send the crowd home happy instead.
Nothing perhaps, except a lack of vision and desire that rock ‘n’ roll needs for a truly live resurrection.
But it wasn’t to be. The gig ended in acrimony and the two comeback singles offered only an apologetic rehashing of past glories a quarter of a century past their sell-by date.
So what happened next?
When he rejoined the Roses, Mani was replaced in Primal Scream by Simone Marie Butler. I guess he’s kind of unemployed now.
Reni has disappeared again, and John is back at the canvas. And so it falls to Ian once again to carry the musical torch.